Are Police Roadblocks Unconstitutional?

It is a typical evening. You’re driving down the road with the radio on. Up ahead you see the flash of a police car telling you to pull over. Anxiety immediately sets in, even though you know you have not done anything wrong.

It’s called a roadblock, which can be used as a seatbelt, ID or sobriety checkpoint.

According to The Roadblock Registry, “Roadblocks are usually established in locations that prevent easy avoidance, offer ample parking for interrogating suspected law violators and issuing tickets, and usually in places and during times that will not cause serious traffic tie ups.”

According to the U.S. Constitution’s Fourth Amendment,“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath, or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

So the question is: are roadblocks constitutional according to the Fourth Amendment?

The answer is unclear. Thirty-eight states, including the District of Columbia, the Northern Mariana Islands and the Virgin Islands, conduct sobriety checkpoints. The other 12 states prohibit these roadblocks based on interpretation of state law or the federal Constitution. In Arizona, checkpoints are conducted at least once per month.

“There is no state law in Arizona that specifically defines the legality of checkpoints,” said Christopher P. Corso, Esq. “In the past, Arizona courts have relied on the Compelling Government Interest Doctrine, which applies strict scrutiny protecting our right to travel, right to vote and most importantly our right to privacy.”

Case Examples

On July 2, a seatbelt checkpoint was conducted by the Beckley Police Department in Beckley, West Virginia. At the time a seat belt law was not in effect. The search according to infowars.com yielded five arrests, the seizure of 96 grams of marijuana, crack cocaine and $1,500 in cash. If their state seat belt law did not go into effect until July 9, than what were these police officers really up to?

Another case example, on June 26 in Knoxville, Tennessee the Tennessee Highway Patrol was conducting a seatbelt checkpoint as part of their “I-75 Stay Alive Blitz” Campaign. Checkpoints in this state are upheld by state law and the federal Constitution. While the officer ran a driver’s license check, the passenger, a 24-year-old man, got behind the wheel and fled the scene. According to WATE.com, he could be facing charges of driving under the influence, driving under a suspended license, resisting arrest, evading arrest in a motor vehicle, leaving the scene of an accident and reckless endangerment. The clincher: up until the checkpoint, the driver was not committing any suspicious behavior.

Should the public be notified of these roadblocks in advance?

In Arizona court case Ekstrom v. Justice Court the court stated, “the efficacy of deterrent roadblock is heightened by publicity in the media. Advance notice would limit intrusion upon personal dignity and security because those being stopped would anticipate and understand what was happening.”

What should you do if you get stopped?

“If you are pulled over most importantly do not permit the officer to voluntarily search your vehicle,” said John M. Rhude, Esq. “Only roll down your window far enough to hand the officer your driver’s license and registration. After 20 minutes, ask the officer if you are free to go. They have no obligation and will not tell you to leave. Lastly, exercise your right to a lawyer and do not answer any questions.”

Please contact the Law Office of Corso and Rhude today for a free consultation. To schedule a free consultation, please call (480) 471-4616.

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